This is a hot topic in Bellevue, Washington and has been for almost a year. This is a huge issue in King County as homelessness has been increasing every year since 2013.The market crash in 2007 set this off when people lost their jobs and/or houses in the crash. Figures show that when the market stabilized in 2010, the homeless rate dropped slightly and continued until 2013. While there are probably numerous reasons including growth of the city, the rate has increased year over year of homeless and one night unsheltered (on the streets) count. In 2014 Seattle metro area was ranked #4 in the nation for the highest homeless population in the United States.
There are figures showing that the demand for housing doesn't meet the increase in migration to the area. This could be why inflation of rents have gone up and continue to do so. Seattle decided to strike down micro housing as of late. I don't notice Bellevue picking up the idea either. While Seattle has been throwing money at their issue with temporary shelters and policing campsites (herding the homeless at times). Mayor Ed Murray has been throwing money at this in the last few years, $47 million in 2016. Has anything improved? While the city and himself are raising taxes that will effect low income people. Like the new sales and the potential soda tax. Then last month King County Executive Dow Constantine proposing a tax hike of $469 Million for Art, Science and Cultural programs as Mayor Murray of Seattle proposing a $275 Million levy for homelessness. Where are the priorities of these leaders?
Numbers are not what matters most however they do help reflect the needs and efficiency of programs or changes in policy that will reduce homelessness within the County or in general. The numbers of one night stay outdoors is scary. This number is increasing from 3,772 in 2015 to 4,505 in 2016 a 19 percent increase in a year. While only a few hundred (134 in 2015 and 245 in 2016) are concentrated on the Eastside that's still too much with the rapid growth the area has encountered. There are also other issues going on that is pushing currently housed individuals out on the streets. Rents are rising, the cost of fuel or transportation, costs of food and lack of "living wage" jobs.These issues have been brought up and addressed, however the solutions are lacking proper thought. With the 15 Now crowd we have seen what the minimum wage is doing. It's creating less growth in employment, rising costs of food and merchandise, shutting down businesses, higher rents and businesses not being created.
With Bellevue homelessness not being as big of a problem right now as Seattle has, the city council is expecting growth of the area to exceed Seattle's population in 20 years. However are they addressing the real issue of affordable housing and job creation for these residents? When I say these two things there is thought that the public sector must be involved. Yes they have to be involved with lowering taxes and regulations to attain this goal. Also we could model Houston, Texas as they have had the same issue as Seattle with high concentrations of homeless on the streets. We could allow the private charities to do their work and have a network system to link them altogether so they can refer people to different services offered by the different organizations. Houston decided that they may wish to create programs to transition these people to regular housing.
Congregations for the Homeless is this private group in Bellevue who has already been helping with temporary shelter solutions in the last some years. They already receive public funding and will receive more with this appropriation from the Council exactly $8,551,000, 9,906,000 in tax credits and 1,280,000 in private funding. This new shelter is supposed to be a more "long term" solution for these people with potential job resources and transitioning into permanent housing.
This has a few sides going on right now and the community is semi divided. There are a couple NIMBY style groups. One of them being Eastside Residents Coalition which has a petition on Change.org ( https://www.change.org/p/i-am-against-the-low-barrier-men-s-shelter-in-eastgate ). Some of the people within don't want this shelter anywhere in the community, some want it at a different location and others who are willing to work with it based on a public safety level. There are also the people who are for it and agree with the council. Most of the concerns are the fact of public safety and drug use. As a flyer I saw shows the attack of a woman who was cornered and raped in a park bathroom (In Seattle Golden Gardens) and then another instance of a transient burning down a mosque, the Islamic Center of the Eastside in January. This can be understood however those who end up in a shelter tend to want to better themselves, where as those that don't are the ones that typically stay in parks or sleep on trails. Those people will exist on the streets even if this shelter didn't open. There'd be those living in their cars. Also the city is talking about cracking down camping in recreational vehicles on the sides of streets in the area. This sounds like a potentially dangerous idea that could create an added homelessness issue.
With homelessness there are various factors. We could go into drug laws and decriminalization treating it more like a health issue. We have mental illness as well that effects even those who aren't homeless while this is also controversial. Most of the time it's just someone who slipped and fell in life. They made a bad choice or two or three, maybe they got in trouble with the law? Those with felonies tend to not be able to find employment or even housing. We live in a "one strike and you're out" society right now with the legal system. Some of these people just need a chance and people to listen to them? While yes there are those who are harmful to community and we need to address that when it comes down to it. There are several questions to ask but in the end we should look at where we can help those who ask for it, right?
You can find data on this project if you live in king county on the Bellevue city website. There have been several hearings. One of them a study session on 04/03/2017 that I attended as well as the council meeting that followed with residents and community members addressing their concerns. The final hearing will be held at Bellevue City Hall on Monday 04/17/17. Then the community will hopefully have decided on the right solution for them. Either way the community and private market can always step up to the needs that the public sector fails on.
I have listed some data and sources if you want to read more into this. Also here are some residents voicing their opinions as this is a community issue.
To View the council sessions for 04/03/17 Click Here
For the Council: http://bellevue.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=4993
Alex Love is an independent journalist from Lynnwood, WA / Phoenix, AZ. He is a community servant and activist who also runs a non profit called Love 4 Liberty.